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Month of Horror 2015: World Edition – Japan: Ring (Ringu)

Editor’s Note: These posts originally appeared starting here on the AV Club *stares off wistfully*. They are being reposted for completionist sake as this annual series continued onto the AVCAD and now here. Also, forgive the writing for I was younger and dumber and these were written to appear in comments so don’t include pictures and are far shorter and less thorough than the series is now. They have been preserved as they were.

Month of Horror: World Edition
10/03/2015 – Japan: Ring (Ringu) (1998)
Directed by Hideo Nakata

Like the US, Japan has a rich and varied history of horror films dating back to the 50’s with the release of such films as Gojira, Tôkaidô Yotsuya kaidan, and the arguably horror Ugetsu though they have always been known for their ghost stories. It was Ringu in particular that helped lead to an emergence in the popularity of J-Horror in the West and along with its rather good American remake The Ring, led to a trend in the 00’s of remaking many similar Asian horror films (a trend which has since disappeared). The quality of these films may have been rather poor with remakes so soon after the original being unnecessary, but they did at least allow for greater exposure of the films of that region.

The only film of Hideo Nakata’s that I had seen before is The Ring Two which is to put it generously not a good movie. Ringu itself has been towards the top of my horror must see list for a while now due both to its influence and to the quality of the remake which worked despite having already been parodied to death by the time I saw it.

Both version’s stock and trade is in atmosphere relying on that instead of gore or jump scares (though there is nothing wrong with the former) and a fairly slow pace. The action is pretty much confined to the beginning and end of the movie with the middle functioning as an investigation and for the most part this works.

The film indicates a death with a freeze frame turning to a negative filter which looks ridiculous as opposed to the similar shot (but to a more appealing black and red) in The Hills Have Eyes that closes that film. This combined with plenty goofy scare chords spread throughout the film, bad soap opera music during the dramatic scenes, and some off looking flashbacks in grainy black and white (I get they were trying to match the videotape but it didn’t look close enough to them and didn’t make sense for things unrelated to the video) make for some curious visual choices in a film that is otherwise rather well shot and scored. The shot of SPOILERS Sadako’s corpse rising from the water in the well and then her skin falling off was especially great END OF SPOILERS. Also while the tape clearly looks worse than its American counterpart, this actually works as benefit since that is absolutely how I’d imagine a haunted VHS to look.

This time around there’s even more nonsense about ESP and the like which the film uses as a shortcut for exposition and moving the plot forward thanks to the MINOR SPOILERS ex-husband now having it as a trait the remake was wise to remove from his character END OF SPOILERS. Hiroyuki Sanada (of Sunshine, The Wolverine, Mr. Holmes, etc.) is fine in the role but it is hard to take seriously. In fact, there is more explanation than I remember in the remake which makes for a more complete story, but also takes away some of the horror and this explanation is not particularly interesting to boot. I especially wasn’t fond of them MORE SPOILERS actually naming in this one who was going to have to watch the tape next instead of leaving that ambiguous and also dulling the impact that end has END OF SPOILERS. Ringu is still a good film, but for once the Americanized remake (and a PG-13 one no less) actually improved a film.

Month of Horror: World Edition
Bonus Episode #1 – United States: Funhouse (1981)
Directed by Tobe Hooper

Tobe Hooper has always been a director I’ve wanted to have a better career than he did. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the best horror and slasher films even made and is such an influential piece of work. Instead of becoming another Carpenter or Romero though, he never came close to the quality of his breakout work. Poltergeist is great and memorable (if mired in rumors of how much he actually directed but a clear step down while Salem’s Lot and Lifeforce are much more mixed in quality (especially the latter). I know his Toolbox Murders remake has his fans but I am not one of them and the rest of his career is full of critically derided and forgotten films (though once again the unseen by me The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 has its fans but not really for horror related reasons).

I really wish I could do a fuller, longer review of The Funhouse, but there really isn’t much to say about it. The film has a decent amount of style, but it’s so standard that it is hard to really get worked up either way about it. There are certainly elements that remind of his earlier (and superior Texas Chainsaw Massacre with the deformed brain damaged killer and later (and superior) Poltergeist but I just don’t care about any of the characters and the film is too tame to be entertaining as a gore fest or for the kills. Hell even the TV guide basically just throws in the towel with “The old monster-on-the-midway gimmick”. The final chase scene, if standard 80’s slasher chasing SPOILERS FOR ANYONE WHO HASN’T SEEN A SLASHER BEFORE a final girl, scene is the first time the film shows any sign of life but it’s too little too late. It’s certainly a passable film, but I have a hard time saying I actually enjoyed it.

Up Next: Kim Jee-woon’s A Tale of Two Sisters representing South Korea.

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